Were Romney ad-buying strategists smart or just lucky?

In retrospect, the Romney campaign’s media planners are looking pretty smart.

As of today, polls show the candidate either ahead or tied nationally and at worst within closing distance in swing states. What’s more, all the advertising money they didn’t spend this summer is now coming into play in what were only a few weeks ago considered safe Obama states – Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, for example.

But how smart were they?

You can make a very good case that it was sheer luck which forced them into smart media-buying decisions.

“I have plenty of clever generals but just give me a lucky one.” – Napoleon

As Napoleon once pointed out, the value of luck can’t be overstated.

The Romney campaign had a big dose of it, though it seemed like bad luck at the time, resulting from federal election laws enacted as long as 38 years ago.

If the Romney strategists had had their druthers, nobody knows whether or not they’d have chosen to go dark from April through August. But the election laws made that decision for them. Those laws strictly compartmentalize primary funds from general campaign funds, and prohibit candidates from spending the latter until officially receiving their party’s nomination.

That meant that the Romney campaign, having spent its primary money, couldn’t buy air time until the end of the Republican convention in late August – while the Obama campaign, not having to worry about primaries, could and did.

Consequently, the Romney campaign was able to prosper by being forced to observe another Napoleonic strategic maxim.

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”  – Napoleon

Throughout the summer, notes Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post, “Obama and third-party groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to make Romney an unacceptable alternative.” Specifically:

…the Obama team tried portraying Romney as: 1) the “vulture” capitalist; 2) a tax evader and/or a felon for signing (or not signing) Bain documents after he left to run the Olympics; 3) killer of Joe Soptic’s wife; 4) outsourcer of jobs to China; 5) determined to take contraception away from women; 6) ready to give a tax cut to the rich and hike middle-class taxes; 7) egging on the auto industry’s demise; 8) willing to throw granny over the cliff on Medicare; 9) President George W. Bush’s political twin

This got traction in the polls until October 3, when Romney showed up at the first debate not wearing a Snidley Whiplash suit and evilly twirling his handlebar mustachios.

At that point, it was the Romney campaign’s turn to start spending money like crazy.

Though blogger John Hinderaker paints this as a conscious decision –

The Romney campaign followed a very different approach. Convinced that historically, money spent during the summer is largely wasted, Romney decided to hoard most of his cash until October, which is when most undecided voters make up their minds. While Obama has raised and spent more money than Romney over the course of the campaign, it is Romney who is dominating the airwaves in the final weeks.

– it was a decision forced upon them.

Thanks to those federal election laws, they had literally hundreds of millions of dollars on hand and only a month to spend them in.

“The Republican simply has money to burn,” said an AP report. “Use it now or never.”

Mitt Romney is suddenly plunging into traditionally Democratic-leaning Minnesota and Pennsylvania, and his GOP allies are trying to put Michigan into play. It’s forcing President Barack Obama to defend his own turf – he’s pouring money into television ads in the states and dispatching top backers – in the campaign’s final week.

And that’s money from a dwindling supply.

It’ll be at least another week before we know for sure if the Romney media-planning strategists were smart – or even lucky. It’ll all depend on the outcome.

As Napoleon himself said, ““History is written by the winners.”